From Seed To Forest: ‘Save Our Trees’ Wins 3 Seats in Landslide District Election

From Seed To Forest: Save Our Trees Wins 3 Seats in Landslide District Election

Save Our Trees group after the election results were announced. {Bryan Boggiano}

By Bryan Boggiano

What started as a grassroots movement to protect the city’s landscape, aesthetics, environment, and properties turned into political momentum that flipped all three Coral Springs Improvement District (CSID) board seats.

Curt Tiefenbrun, Stephen Lytle, and Ben Groenevelt were elected Monday afternoon at CSID’s meeting. All promise to reform the special district and stop a flood mitigation project that would clear-cut up to 5,000 trees from 22 miles of canal rights-of-way.

In a landslide victory, all three candidates received 1,599 or about 88 percent of the vote. They faced off against Dr. Martin Shank and Len Okyn, who each received 208 votes or about 12 percent.

Residents such as Debby Dellorso, Ricky Roderick, and Alexander Hernandez said they showed up to save the trees. Others said they wanted CSID to take a different approach.

“Things need to be looked at in a different way,” said Gina Pizzirusso. “It can’t just be about removal. There are other solutions, and there are other recommendations and other solutions that can achieve the same goals.”

State Representative Dan Daley said issues with transparency and communication have been characteristic of the district for years. This election, he said, is a major turning point.

“I think it sends a message that [the residents] are ready for change,” he said.

Tiefenbrun, Lytle, and Groenevelt were affiliated with the Save Our Trees movement, which sought to prevent CSID from clear-cutting up to 5,000 trees along 22 miles of canal rights-of-way in southern Coral Springs.

The project is part of a flood mitigation initiative proposed by CSID. After Hurricane Irma, the district said trees falling into canals obstructed water flow, posing a flooding risk and water damage to properties and infrastructure.

From Seed To Forest: Save Our Trees Wins 3 Seats in Landslide District Election

The new Coral Springs Improvement District board takes the oath of office.

When CSID first advertised the project in 2023, residents criticized the board’s transparency, saying they had known about it since 2021 and did not allow the community to be involved.

Momentum against the project started when Tiefenbrun received a letter from CSID about the project. He spoke to the city commission about his concerns and went door-to-door throughout the city’s south side.

“It just kept building from that; it snowballed,” Tiefenbrun said. 

He submitted satellite photos and showed residents where CSID would remove trees. He also encouraged residents to attend CSID Board meetings.

Tiefenbrun’s motivation to declare his candidacy came after a board meeting at J.P. Taravella High School. He said board members exhibited disinterest in the residents’ concerns by sitting crossed-armed and in an unwelcoming posture. 

“It told me you’re closed,” he said. “You’re present but closed to the public that’s before you.” 

After that meeting, he spoke with residents and decided to run. 

Tiefenbrun’s efforts gained recognition and support from the city commission and attorney. They stated CSID violated the code by not getting a tree variance or permit, among other concerns. Residents expressed concerns over environmental, landscape, and aesthetic effects.

In response, a group of residents formed Save Our Trees to oppose the clear-cutting initiative and hosted several meetings to discuss the project’s effects and the upcoming election.

Jacqui Luscombe, a Save Our Trees volunteer, was one person who received fliers from Tiefenbrun and became one of the group’s first advocates. 

“We wanted the board to consider sustainable alternatives to this plan [and] to work with us, the community,” she said. “When it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, we moved on to this election campaign.”

CSID eventually agreed to hire an arborist and assemble a resident advisory group to discuss alternatives to the clear-cutting project.

“Environmental issues matter to people, and having a voice in what happens in the environment also matters to them,” said Mark Ritter, a panel member.

On Monday, residents packed into Maplewood Elementary School’s cafeteria, handing a decisive victory to the three candidates.

“This is a true David versus Goliath story,” Lytle said. “We felt like we were up against a machine that was going to be really hard to stop, but we had an opportunity through the efforts of our volunteers and community to make a difference.”

The new board ultimately selected Tiefenbrun as CSID’s new president, Lytle as vice president, and Groenevelt as secretary.

They promised to bring accountability to the board, listen to residents, and rebuild the relationship with the City of Coral Springs. But, they all wanted to continue providing the level of service CSID is known for.

Their first order of business was to halt the tree-cutting project. The motion carried. 

“If people do want change, and they really put their heart into it like this community volunteers did, change can happen,” Groenevelt said.

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Bryan Boggiano

Bryan Boggiano
Bryan has a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and earned his masters in geosciences from Florida International University, where he focused in atmospheric sciences. His interests include weather, entertainment, and municipal government.

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